By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
COVINGTON – St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce President Lacey Toledano is confident the small staff at the local Chamber has consistently been successful in creating a great atmosphere for commerce and business across western St. Tammany.
But it is still nice when a big-name organization confirms that.
The St. Tammany West Chamber was honored at the annual Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Executives (LACCE) annual meeting when the group received the top honor possible in being named the large Louisiana “Chamber of the Year.”
The prestigious award recognized the success the West Chamber and its Board of Directors has had in a multitude of community fronts—playing a key role in positive community changes, excellence in Chamber management, heading highly successful programs that made the Chamber a stronger organization, and for Toledano to distinguish herself as a leader in the community.
Toledano has been the president of the St. Tammany West Chamber for 18 years and has been involved professionally in the Chamber for 27 years. In talking about the award, which was announced at the annual state meeting in Lafayette, she said the award was appreciated since it shows how much the group is working for the good of the business community here.
“I believe the award actually recognizes all our members and volunteer leaders for their contributions and it shows that we are following our mission, which is to create an atmosphere for commerce to be successful, especially for small businesses,” she noted.
On the application the West Chamber had to provide detail and documentation to show the many ways their board played an active role in key community projects or issues.
They highlighted their work to take a stand on various state laws that would affect business, they took a position on reducing taxes and millages, especially the controversial Economic Development District (EDD) taxes and the renewal of sales taxes.
They questioned area boards and governmental bodies that were renewing millages or taxes, seeking information to explain the need to tax the public, and then got involved in the Port Marigny project by pressing public bodies there to move forward with the development that could open the door for many business opportunities.
The board joined the Build It Coalition, which is a group of Chambers and other economic development organizations that wanted to strengthen and improve the state transportation infrastructure.
Through its regular lunches the Chamber continually brought important information to business owners and business leaders, while also hosting public forums for candidates in upcoming elections.
“The Chamber is the glue that connects volunteers with non-profits with business,” Toledano explained. “It’s really like a circle of support for each other.”
With the Chamber West group now near the 1,000 member mark, Toledano continues to be active in the community to identify and solicit involvement from many businesses that may not be connected or aware of the Chamber.
“Last week I had a meeting with a large accounting firm and it led me to identify a gas and oil firm in the area with over 100 employees,” she said. “They had not been identified through the parish or the economic development foundation—they kind of quietly settled in Northpark on their own–but I suddenly learned about them and immediately made a connection.
“That will help the Chamber, it will help that business and it will allow their employees to get connected to the community and the non-profit groups that do so much here,” she added.
One key change for the Chamber in the past year was to form a Political Action Committee (PAC), something Toledano said the board of directors had discussed for as long as 10 years.
“Our board members have always wanted the Chamber to take a position on key issues and at times to become involved in elections by endorsing certain candidates,” she said. “But just as a Chamber we were not allowed to do that. We needed to form a Chamber PAC and that allowed us to endorse candidates publicly.”
In barely over a year there are already 270 Chamber members who have joined the PAC by paying the $100 a year membership fee, giving the Chamber and its members a new voice in the political scene.
“Politics is not a four letter word,” Toledano said with a laugh. “It’s something we want to have a connection to since the public officials who are elected affect us all. Now we are able to do that.”
Ultimately, Toledano said the Chamber is working towards the overall good of the parish, something that business plays a key part in.
“We want St. Tammany to be viewed positively for our businesses and residents,” she said. “We are all interested in prioritizing and managing our resources properly and that is why we try to educate our members on why it’s important to vote.
“Elected people can’t get everything done alone,” she said. “The Legislature looks to statewide Chambers for backup, to know what business people want. And that’s something we’ve always been active in providing—of course, with the PAC we can do it more effectively.”
“Hopefully this award lets the community know that they have a strong Chamber working for them,” she said.
St. Tammany West Chamber is one of less than 1 percent of 5-star accredited Chambers in the country.